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Jewish World Review
August 10, 2007
/ 26 Menachem-Av 5767
40,000 Year-old Baby
Have you heard the one about the 40,000 year-old baby mammoth that was discovered in Russia? Even though this sounds like the beginning of a Jay Leno joke it is actually true at least as reported by the Reuters news agency on Wednesday, July 11th. The story said that a baby mammoth had been uncovered, preserved in the Russian permafrost in the Artic Yamalo-Nenetsk region. The species has been extinct since the Ice Age, but a reindeer hunter found her carcass in perfect condition sticking out of the snow. No kidding.
Alexie Tikhonov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Science's Zoological Institute, said, "It's a lovely little baby mammoth indeed, found in perfect condition. This specimen may provide unique material allowing us to ultimately decipher the genetic makeup of the mammoth." Tikhonov has been taking care of the mammoth since it was uncovered in May.
The mammoth is a six-month old female and now she even has a name. They're calling her "Lyuba" after the wife of reindeer breeder and hunter Yuri Khudi who found her. Weighing 50 kg (110 lb), and measuring 85 centimeters high and 130 centimeters from trunk to tail, Lyuba is roughly the same size as a large dog.
Tikhonov said the fact the mammoth was so remarkably well-preserved its shaggy coat was gone but otherwise it looked as though it had only recently died meant it was a potential treasure trove for scientists. "Such a unique skin condition protects all the internal organs from modern microbes and micro-organisms ... In terms of its future genetic, molecular and microbiological studies, this is just an unprecedented specimen."
Eventually Lyuba will be will shipped to the Zoological Museum in St Petersburg where she will join a male baby mammoth called Dima who was unearthed in Magadan in Russia's Far East in 1977 and until now was Russia's best-known example of the species. "They will make a nice couple, both roughly aged 40,000 years," Tikhonov said. Isn't that nice? Talk about an icy romance. A match made in Siberia.
But, now don't cry, there will be a brief separation of the couple. From St Petersburg, Lyuba will go to Jikei University in Japan to undergo three-dimensional computer mapping of her body. The mammoth will then return to St Petersburg for an autopsy before being put on display in Salekhard.
On the one hand I realize this find can be enormously beneficial for scientific study. Intellectually I get it. On the other hand, it bothers me a bit that a creature that has been buried for 40,000 years in a frozen state that has allowed it to retain much of it's original form has now been uncovered and will undoubtedly begin to slowly decompose. Yes, they will do whatever they can, use the latest technology available in an effort to retard decomposition, but the reality is, the mammoth will not be preserved as well as it was when it was frozen beneath centuries of ice. And that's too bad.
I feel the same way whenever I read about archeologists digging up some ancient grave sites. I don't care that the graves are 2,000 years old leave them alone! Is there a time limit on how long a person's grave is allowed to remain untouched? Why is it okay to dig up a body from 300B.C. but it is forbidden to dig up a body from 1903? Is it because there is less of a physical body there? Is it because all immediate family members have also died, so now it's fine to pull it out? Has enough time passed so that a person's grave is no longer considered sacred ground? If it's sacred now, why won't it be sacred three hundred years from now?
This probably falls into the category of "Don't Mess with Other People's Stuff," of which I am a firm believer. My home is my home, you don't have a right to walk in without permission and just start going through the closets and dresser drawers. You don't have the right to hotwire my car and take it for a little drive along the coast. You don't have the right to take my money, or my clothes, or my pet, or my wife. And you don't have the right to dig me up after I'm dead and go through my remains.
There can be extenuating circumstances of course, like if I'm selling dope to preschoolers or something, in that case the authorities can, and should, go through my house, go through my things, go through my car, arrest me and put me away forever. But some guy who doesn't even know me has no right to just, out of a clear blue sky, take my stuff away from me (like some Democrat politicians would love to do). It's not fair. It's not right.
But will the rest of the world listen to me? No. It will carry on just as it always has. It will dig up that poor little 40,000 year-old mammoth, dissect her, study her, ship her around the globe, put her on display, expose her for all the world to see, spend a fortune on publicity, E-mail her photo across the internet, and do unending stories on her in the media Ö but remember one thing, all that could happen to YOU, too. If you don't believe me just ask Paris Hilton.
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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© 2006, Greg Crosby